Asher, thankfully never had colic, but about a quarter of all babies do. (1) Parents often ask, what they can do to help their colicky babies and honestly I don’t have any concrete answers. The thing is, no one really knows why colic happens to some babies and not others and what even causes it to begin with. There are just a bunch of theories. It’s kind of like morning sickness, in that it’s still so much of a mystery. The one thing we do know definitively about colic is that: it will go away with time. Although, I realize that that is of little comfort to the exhausted and raw parents of babies with colic.
There are several things that parents can try to reduce the colic however while they may work for some babies they may not work for others, which is part of what makes colic so frustrating to deal with. Not only is your little bundle crying incessantly but you also have to hear story after story from other people about how they did x, y and z and it totally cured their baby, yet when you try the same things you get no result at all, which only adds to your feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Well let me set the record straight. You are not doing anything wrong. There is no exact science when it comes to colic, just like there isn’t any when it comes to morning sickness.
Colic is defined as excessive crying in an otherwise healthy and thriving baby that lasts at least 3 hours a day, for 3 days a week, for at least 3 weeks. (2) The crying typically starts in the first few weeks of life and ends by the time the infant is 3 or 4 months old (3) however it has been known to last longer than this.
There are many theorized causes of colic, which include; infants’ difficult temperament, inadequate or inappropriate mother-infant interaction, maternal anxiety, abnormal gastrointestinal function, allergic problems (mainly cow’s milk allergy) abnormal colonic micro flora, increased infant responsiveness, difficult infant temperament, disturbed infant–parent interaction, maternal smoking while pregnant and maternal and paternal depression. (1) So as you can see, they have pretty much covered all the basis of possible causes, which is just another way of saying that no one really knows why it happens. In rare cases (5.1%), there may be underlying health problems that are presenting as colic, such as central nervous system problems, GI pathology, infections and trauma. (1)
Treatments for colic fall into 3 main categories: dietary, behavioral and pharmacological. (1)
Diet: When dealing with colic usually the first course of treatment is dietary, mainly because it is the simplest approach and seems to make the biggest difference when it does work. The best thing to do from a dietary perspective it to go on an anti-colic diet before colic even sets in. The essentials of an anti colic diet are:
No dairy: especially no milk or cheese
No cruciferous veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, etc
No onions or garlic
Low in raw fruits and veggies
Low in soy and wheat
However keep in mind that this may or may not work at treating colic or preventing it from happening, but it is often a good place to start. After a few weeks you can slowly start adding foods back into your diet to see if they have any adverse effects or not.
Behavioral: There are many different behavioral approaches to treating colic, so I’m just going to touch on two of the most common.
5 S’s – Swaddling, Sushing, Side (as in holding babies on their sides), Swaying and Sucking. This is the approach made popular by the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block. It basically involves swaddling your baby tightly, making loud shushing noises in their ear (as loud as the baby is crying, think espresso machine), holding the baby in your arms on his or her side, swaying, rocking or gently jiggling the baby and when all else fails offering them the breast to suck. These 5 steps or some variation there of are really good at calming a crying baby, but they may or may not work at calming a crying colicky baby, still, they are worth a try.
Baby wearing – This involves increasing the time you spend wearing the baby (in a wrap or a carrier) by at least 3 hours. A lot of people swear by this approach and it is definitely nice to cuddle up to your little one, which also allows you to respond promptly to their needs, however there is no supporting evidence in the literature that increased holding reduces crying time in colicky infants but it may in fact increase stress and anxiety in parents. (1) (3) Again, though, you may find that baby wearing is what works best for your baby and actually gives you peace of mind, so I recommend trying it.
Pharmocological: This is the treatment method that shows the least results at improving colic symptoms. Of the drug interventions studied, dicyclomine as shown the most promise, and performed significantly better than the placebo. The use of anti-reflux medication has shown no improvement in the treatment of colic, even though acid-reflux is one of the theorized causes of colic. (1) If you’re interested in this route, I encourage you to talk to your child’s pediatrician about whether or not pharmocological treatment is right for your child’s colic.
In general, the best you can do is reassure yourselves that it will get better with time and to develop predictable feeding and sleeping routines, as this will at least help provide some order and structure. It is tremendously helpful to seek support from other parents who have dealt with colic first hand, because no one really can understand what it’s like unless they have been through it themselves. It is perfectly normal to doubt everything, to hate your child, to feel like you are at your wits end, to want to pull your hair out and to wish you could send the baby back. Talking about these things with other parents who have been through it will help reduce the guilt you may be feeling about feeling these ways yourself and give you a shoulder to lean on. And remember, your baby is just as miserable as you are. I promise you, one day the colic will be over and you will fall in love all over again with this tiny little miracle that you created. Hang in there.